At a recent college career day, this troubling question was asked repeatedly; “What do social workers do?” The question was troubling because it came with the realization that most college age students have no clear idea what social workers do. They are, therefore, less inclined to pick social work as a career choice.
After the career day, we began to talk to social workers about their view of the profession and noted that, while they could all speak eloquently about what they did, they didn’t seem to have an informed picture of the profession as a whole. As a result, they were surprisingly halting and unconvincing when they speak to young people about considering social work as a career.
The Social Worker Cliff’s Notes
It seems that it would be helpful to put together a “big picture” view of social work and offer it as a sort of “Cliff’s Notes” on the social work profession. It's something that social workers could keep handy for when they’re asked by young people: “Why should I consider social work as a career choice?”
The Most Frequent Questions
The following were the questions most often asked by students inquiring about the social work profession. (We referenced the Bureau of Labor Statistics for most of the information.)
- How much do Social Workers Make?
The median annual wage for social workers was $49,470 in May 2018. This means, of course, that half of all social workers make more than $50,000 while half (entry level) make less.2. Is there a great demand for social workers?
Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 16% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be driven by increased demand for healthcare and social services but will vary by specialization.3. How big is the social work profession?
Social workers held about 682,100 jobs in 2018. The specialties were broken down as follows:
- Child, Family, and School Social Workers………………317,600
- Healthcare Social Workers……………………………………176,500
- Mental Health and substance abuse social workers…123,900
- All other……………………………………………………………….64,000
4. How much education is required?
- A BSW prepares students for direct-service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant. These programs teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy and ethics in social work. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship.
- Clinical positions require a master’s degree in social work (MSW), which generally takes 2 years to complete. MSW programs prepare students for work in their chosen specialty by developing clinical assessment and management skills.
- There are more than 500 bachelor’s degree programs and more than 200 master’s degree programs accredited by the Council on Social Work.
5. Do you need a license to be a social worker?
All states require clinical social workers to be licensed. Becoming a licensed clinical social worker requires a master’s degree in social work and a minimum of 2 years of supervised clinical experience after graduation.
- What do social workers do every day?
- Identify people and communities in need of help.
- Assess clients’ needs, situations, strengths and support networks to determine their goals.
- Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce or unemployment.
- Research, refer and advocate for community resources, such as food stamps, childcare and healthcare to assist and improve a client’s well-being.
- Respond to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies.
- Follow up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved.
- Maintain case files and records.
- Develop and evaluate programs and services to ensure that basic client needs are met.
- Provide psychotherapy services.
The Last Word
Hopefully, the Cliff’s Notes above will help keep social workers up to date on their profession’s big picture. The big picture issue that all social workers are crystal clear on is contained in the following quote from one of our colleagues:
“You have to care about people’s suffering and want to be of service. No other motivation will get you through the constant demands, the long hours, the short pay and the heart-break you will experience. This is a caring profession. Seekers of fame and fortune need not apply.”